We have yet to see Bijan Robinson take the field but many have him ranked as a top 3 running back in almost every fantasy football format. I think it is safe to say that we are all eagerly waiting for him to break fantasy football this season, and he very well may. Between the hype surrounding Bijan, and all of the controversy surrounding the running back position it got me thinking: Who is next year's Bijan Robinson? Does that player exist? Who are the 2024 Rookie Running Back Prospects?
Well, as of right now...no. The 2024 class does not currently have a running back prospect at Bijan's level, but that could potentially change as the college season progresses. While there may not be top 10 NFL Draft pick potential at the position there are many more backs with late Day 1 and early Day 2 projections currently.
It is never too early to look to the future. Many of you may have dynasty teams in a rebuild, and have been acquiring those 2024 1st round rookie picks through trades. With that in mind, let's take a look at my current top 5 2024 Rookie Running Back Prospects.
2024 Rookie Running Back Prospects
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5. Braelon Allen, RB, Wisconsin Badgers
Originally recruited to play on the defensive side of the ball as a safety or linebacker for Wisconsin, this 6'1" 235lb beast has been lighting it up in the backfield for the Badgers. As a true freshman (17-18 years old) in 2021, Allen rushed for 1,268 YDS on 6.8 YPA (yards per attempt) and 12 TDs, per nfldraftbuzz.com. After he seized control of the lead back role that same year he would go on to score 6 of those TDs and rush for 400 of those YDS in only two games against Nebraska and Northwestern. In 2022 as a sophomore, Allen would follow that impressive freshman year campaign by rushing for 1,242 YDS on 5.4 YPA and 11 TDs, per nfl draftbuzz.com.
Some NFL scouts have even compared Allen to Derrick Henry given his sheer size and strength. I am not quite ready to go there yet, but if he can showcase more explosiveness and speed this year I may jump on that wagon. Allen is not the type of running back who is going to consistently make 80-yard house calls, but given his physical stature and early break-out age, it is hard not to get excited about his potential at the next level.
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4. Donovan Edwards, RB, University of Michigan Wolverines
This one may shock some people because Edwards is technically not the number one running back for the Wolverines, Blake Corum is. Corum is not on this list, which may be even more shocking, but here we are. In my opinion, it's a shame Corum decided to come back for another year, and we won't have a shot to see Edwards be the main back for 2023. I like Corum, but by the time he enters the NFL, he will already be 23 and have a major injury (torn meniscus, sprained MCL) on his resume. Edwards' skill set and profile are more in line with what I look for in an NFL prospect.
On nfldraftbuzz.com, Edwards is listed 6'1" 205lbs and is a former 4-star recruit who put up 991 YDS on 7.1 YPA and 7 TDs in 2022 for UM. That 7.1 YPA ranked 3rd in the nation out of 168 running backs. He has fantastic vision, and contact balance, and has proven to be capable in the passing game both as a receiver and a blocker. His quick feet paired with his vision allow him to identify cutback lanes, and he has enough speed to beat linebackers to the edge. While he does not possess elite explosiveness or breakaway ability, he is a very patient runner. He's adept at reading blockers and making good decisions with his cuts.
A handful of NFL scouts have compared Edwards to Alvin Kamara, which I can very much see. Will Edwards live up to those expectations? Only time will tell.
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3. Trey Benson, RB, Florida State Seminoles
It was hard for me to rank the next three players as I think they all have the potential to be the number one back off the board in the 2024 NFL Draft. As the college season unfolds this whole list will most definitely change, but for now, this is how it stands.
Per nfldraftbuzz.com, Benson is 6'1" 215lbs, a former 4-star recruit, and transferred to FSU from Oregon before the start of the 2022 season. He did not see very many opportunities as a freshman for the Ducks, but once he stepped foot in Tallahassee he saw a major increase in his workload. Benson carried the ball for 990 YDS on 6.4 YPA and 9 TDS with no fumbles last year. FSU did not utilize him much in the pass game but he made the most of his opportunities in the screen game and is a capable pass blocker as well.
What sets Benson apart from the other two guys on this list so far is his initial burst. Once he can set his plant foot he is very explosive through the hole which allows him to break off a lot of big chunk plays and get to the second and third levels in a hurry. His quick feet and start-stop ability allow him to easily create separation from tacklers, and his excellent vision helps him efficiently locate cutback lanes and gaps in the defense.
He tends to get too upright at times, and although his quickness and burst is top notch he does not possess the speed of a Jahmyr Gibbs or De'Von Achane. That said, he is a tremendously talented running back and I am very excited to watch him throughout the 2023 college football season.
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2. TreVeyon Henderson, RB, Ohio State University Buckeyes
A former 5-star recruit for the Buckeyes, Henderson, saw a pretty significant decline in production in 2022 after an amazing freshman campaign in which he rushed for 1,248 YDS on 6.8 YPA and 15 TDS, and 312 REC YDS and 4 TDS on 27 receptions according to nfldraftbuzz.com. He was banged up with injuries throughout his sophomore season, which pretty much cut those numbers in half. If he can remain healthy I would anticipate those freshman year numbers to return because Henderson is an elite-level athlete and prospect.
Henderson is 5'10" 214lbs with excellent lateral movement for a running back his size, and has the speed to breakaway from a defense once in the open field. He is a patient runner and can read blocks very well, and displays effectiveness running both inside and outside. His low pad level helps him shed arm tackles with ease and he is almost always falling forward when he does go down. In the passing game, Henderson has proven to be a natural hands catcher who turns upfield quickly and makes big plays.
He needs to improve his blocking abilities as he does not offer much in the way of pass protection right now. Outside of that, there are not many holes in his game. I am very excited for a bounce-back season in 2023.
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1. Raheim Sanders, RB, University of Arkansas Razorbacks
Finally, the current number one on my 2024 rookie running back prospects list. Nicknamed "Rocket" by his youth football coach after speeding for a long touchdown, this 6'2" 227lb running back has much more than just speed (4.44 40 yd dash) on his resume. This former 4-star recruit had a monster sophomore season for the Razorbacks putting up 1,443 YDS on 6.5 YPA and 10 TDS, per nfldraftbuzz.com. Despite his size, he does not look nearly that heavy on film, but he certainly plays that big when the situation calls for it.
Sanders is a strong north-south runner with very good leg drive and a quick burst that gets him into the second level of the defense in a hurry. His leg drive and strength allow him to push the pile so he is very good in short yardage situations. He can make defenders miss in the open field utilizing impressive lateral quickness and shines as a pass catcher in the screen game. Showcases smooth hands, and can transition from receiver to runner in a hurry getting up the field quickly.
If there is one knock on Sanders it's that he often seeks out contact rather than just making a move to avoid it. He has the lateral quickness to make defenders miss but his first instinct is to lower his shoulder and try to plow through tacklers. I believe that is something that can be coached out of him, and I am excited to see many more big plays from Rocket in 2023.
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